Overview: After the loss of his mother, a young California man escapes to Italy to get a grip on his slipping life and ends up falling for a woman with a dark secret. Drafthouse Films; 2014; 109 Minutes.
Gene Splicing: You know that feeling you get when you want the female lead of a movie to admit love for the male lead but at the same time you kind of want to see her turn into a giant, horrendous, and dangerous monster? Well, if you have yet to see Spring you might not know that feeling. That’s because Spring is the rare modern horror film that attempts to do something wholly unique.
Spring is exactly what contemporary horror needs. From The Exorcist to Lake Mungo, from Silence of the Lambs to The Battery, the horror films that have managed to progress, grow, and extend the boundaries of the genre are those which have dared to test or ignore the boundaries of the genre. I’m talking of those films which brave inclusion within and measurement against the larger film landscape rather than choosing to comfortably share the stale recycled air of the cramped “horror only” clubhouse. When Writer/Co-director Justin Benson and Co-Director Aaron Moorhead combine a stunning, sun-dulled European travel narrative, a sincerely felt ticking clock romance (inspiration from Linklater’s Before trilogy is so apparent that the comparison is unavoidable), and the type of monster movie that would delight traditional John Carpenter fans, their near-perfect script and their naturally deft filmmaking ensure that the horror elements are only elevated and never smothered by having been sewn as patchwork into these borrowed film fabrics.
The Heart: What starts as a vacation fling between Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Louise (Nadia Hilker) evolves and blossoms into a film romance that can stand with the best of modern film. I’ll admit my early concern that Pucci’s opening act California bro-status might grow stale, but the young actor carries the weight of his familial loss and then exhibits his naïve affection for Louise in such human terms that it’s impossible not to align with him. When, before the clear reveal of her condition, Louise promises to Evan that she has not lied to him, there is added a dynamic to her dialogue and her secrecy which forces constant evaluation. Louise is a character who must be, at once, sinister and lovable, and Hilker hits that balanced note in a way that might seem impossible on paper. Contextualized against the horrific circumstance, their at first playful and then desperate conversation becomes an evaluation of love and life that approaches the subjects through biology, emotion, psychology, and history without ever feeling heavy-handed.
The Horror: And all the while, the central menace of the film’s conceit never fully disappears. After any innocent or sweet series, Benson and Moorhead’s camera might shift subtly to reveal the hint of a mutation, a cryptic bystander, or an insect or animal that contextualizes the monstrosity of Louise’s varying manifestations. The visual tonal shift between the date scenes and Louise’s animalistic behavior is subtle but effective, and there are individual shots in this film, both of geographic and cultural observation and of horrific arrangement, as gorgeous as any you’ll find in a theater this year. And, of course, the full scale monster work is enough to make horror purists giddy in witness.
Overall: Spring is something of a paradox, a film that realizes great ambition and maintains ease of watch, and the rare movie that should manage to greatly please horror fans and general film fans alike. Moorhead and Benson are gifted filmmakers capable of turning this type of courage into success. This level of quality is rare, but, within the larger horror community, I would love to see the aim and approach become standard.